I’m no good until you’re good

Teamwork is a critical factor in organisational and business success. But some teams seem to work better than others and I would argue that the quality of the relationships within teams is likely the key difference that makes the difference.

In some teams, inevitably perhaps, there are those for whom a team role chafes with the impulse to be the standout star: ego can be hard to manage despite the team talks. This is a function of a culture that continually rewards individual success, and it is what we are used to and accept as the norm. In fact, we might feel downright cheated if our boss failed to shine a light on our personal achievements. And to some extent you might be justified. Yes, there is a place to applaud individual achievements (how else will we feel competent in the workplace?), but for long lasting, and on-going achievement and success, I wonder if the applause should be louder for what the team achieves?

Subverting ego and dampening down a culture of individual achievement is not easy. However, in some cultures it is a received cultural practice. In South Africa, for example, the word “ubuntu” describes a philosophy that considers the success of the group above that of the individual. * Here, people acknowledge the inter-related nature of their beings; everything they do is connected to other people. What they do exists only because of how other people experience it. Ubunto grows out of the belief that I’m no good until you’re good. The bigger achievement is not for the self, but rather for the collective achievement. Ubunto, though, is not about doing something, it is more about how you are. How you think about and how you relate to the people around you. What you do is for their good.

With a mindset that emphasises the collective good, instead of the individual, organisational and business relationships deepen and mature. People feel connected and motivated. In short, they feel cared for.

* Lundin and Nelson Ubuntu! An Inspiring Story About an African Tradition of Teamwork and Collaboration (New York: Broadway Books)

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